Spanning 7,000 acres and offering 35 miles of trails, Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz is a favorite destination for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers who escape into the varied landscape of Wilder that include ocean bluffs and beaches as well as hills, meadows and redwood groves.
Once part of Mexican land grant Rancho del Refugio, Wilder has a history of being used as a dairy, which began with the Rancho’s first titles owners, Maria Candida Castro and her husband, Jose Antonio Bolcoff, who produced and sold butter and cheese. The lands were split and a portion acquired by Moses Meder in 1854. Meder expanded the existing dairy and farming facilities. His butter fetched a handsome price of $1 per pound in San Francisco. In 1871, partners Levi Baldwin and Deloss Wilder bought over 4000 of the former rancho, constructing a new creamery several years later. In 1885, the partners split the land between them and the Wilder family continued to operate the dairy until 1969, when the property taxes exceeded the farm’s income. In 1970, the residents of Santa Cruz County voted to keep the property as preserved open space and the land was acquired by California State Parks in 1974.
Whether you have an hour or a day, desire an easy stroll or a strenuous hike, or want to explore the coast or hills, Wilder Ranch offers it all. Trails begin at the parking lot and cultural preserve, heading in two directions-along the ocean bluffs and up into the hills. One of the most popular hikes is to Fern Grotto Beach, a 2.5-mile trek starting at the Old Cove Landing Trail. Enroute to the shallow cave laced with verdant ferns draping over its entrance, hikers pass Wilder Beach and farmlands. The looping, flat trail also passes Sand Plant Beach and provides numerous stunning vistas. Wilder Ridge Loop is 6.3 miles through undulating grasslands, copses of redwood and coastal oaks with incredible views of the Monterey Bay. For a map of the various trails, click here. All trails are shared among hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
With 35 miles of trailers that meander through grasslands, coastal cliffs and the hills to an elevation of 1,800 feet, Wilder is a mountain biker’s paradise. Spend the morning or a full day exploring and then grab brunch or lunch at Davenport Roadhouse or Kelly’s Bakery, both favorites frequented by mountain bikers after a Wilder adventure. It is always recommended to both bike and hike with a partner as well as to take a trail map
Coastal redwoods, oak, alder, willow and buckeye grow in abundance and the varied landscape provides an ideal habitat for mountain lion, deer, coyotes and bobcats while the shores are abundant with sea otters, seals, whales and dolphins. Tide pools are filed with urchins, sea snails and other ocean life while the skies, trees and wetlands are home to a multitude of birds.
The following four events are held each year at Wilder Ranch’s Cultural Preserve, each focusing on activities and festivities as they would have been in the early 1900’s. Other events occur monthly, including nature walks, ranch tours and backcountry hikes.
- Heritage Harvest Festival
Saturday, October 21, 2017 from 11 am to 4 pm
Held on the grounds of the Wilder Ranch Cultural Preserve, this celebration of the harvest includes living history demonstrations, live music, crafts and other harvest-time activities.
- Holidays on the Ranch
Saturday December 9, 2017 from 11 am to 3 pm
Celebrate the holidays at Wilder Ranch with music and merriment reminiscent of the early 20th century. Taking place at the Wilder Ranch Cultural Preserve, enjoy old-fashion sing-alongs, make holidays ornaments and crafts, enjoy a draft-horse carriage ride, play games, tree decorating and more.
- Garden Planting and Wool Day in April
Help plant the heirloom vegetable garden, get educated in composting and gardening and watch the sheep shearing demonstration.
- Old-Fashioned Independence Day July 4th
Celebrate the 4th of July as they would have during the early 20th century with a parade, games, live big-band music, living history demonstrations and historic speeches. Bring a picnic or purchase food on-site.
Wilder Ranch State Park is a Santa Cruz gem bursting with history, nature, education and events. From the hardcore hiker or cyclist to the young family looking for a short outing, Wilder’s 7,000-acres offers something for everyone.
1401 Coast Road
Open Daily 8am to sunset
Visitor Center & Store
Thursday through Sunday 10am to 4pm